Barna Research, the trusted Christian polling organization has reported that Generation Z, those born between 1999 and 2015, have double the rates of atheism than previous generations.
According to Barna, “atheist is no longer a dirty word.” The Gen Z cohort are atheist at double the rate of the general population.
There has been a major erosion in Christian identity. 75% of Boomers self-identify as Protestant or Catholic, but only 59% of today’s Generation Z.
Barna Research Parameters
These are the generally accepted definitions for various age groups and specified by Barna.
- GEN Z were born 1999 to 2015. (Only teens 13 to 18 are included in this study.)
- MILLENNIALS were born 1984 to 1998.
- GEN X were born 1965 to 1983.
- BOOMERS were born 1946 to 1964.
- ELDERS were born before 1946.
NO FAITH identify as agnostic, atheist or “none of the above,” according to Barna.
Barna generally has a broad definition of people of faith. Such people self-identify as having a relationship with Christ or a Protestant or Catholic Church.
Local Church Influence Fading
One of the most important findings from the research is that local churches have lost contact with a wide spectrum today’s teens.
Barna says, “More than half of Gen Z says church involvement is either “not too” (27%) or “not at all” important (27%). Only one in five says attending church is “very important” to them (20%), the least popular of the four options.”
So, local churches are in trouble when they fail to reach about 80% of the upcoming generation.
Why have local churches failed? Large numbers of Gen Z people believe Christians are hypocrites and that science refutes much of the Bible. They believe Christians have a history of being unjust. Also, they have had bad experiences when they went to church, according to the research.
But what is the major issue that keep Gen Z out of church? According to Barna, ” It appears that today’s youth, like so many throughout history, struggle to find a compelling argument for the existence of both evil and a good and loving God.”
Christian Writers Can Fill the Gap
Christian writers can reach out to Gen Z in ways that are not possible for local churches to do. We can write books and blog posts that deal with the issues that concern them in creative ways. We can offer a safe way for them to explore the issues through written material.
The reason this is not happening on a large-scale among Christian writers is because many are caught in a traditional rut. For example, Christian women write Christian romance novels because the genre is formulaic and they suppose they can gain popularity and money by writing them. Yet, they are just entertainment for other Christian women, so their outreach value is limited. They mostly just reinforce establish ideas and don’t challenge people to think, even if they were attracted to the genre.
At the other extreme, we have academic Christians writers who are generally trying to defend their pet theological ideas. Their books require a lot of prior understanding of the Bible and conflicting theological issues, and that is not attractive to young people seeking answers to basic questions of God and life.
Christian writers should not expect the major Christian publishers like Zondervan or Thomas Nelson to publish books aimed at a marginalized group like Gen Z. Major Christian publishers, largely owned by corporate conglomerates, are looking for narrowly defined groups to sell books to, not a diffused group like Gen Z. If Christians writers are to reach them it will be though Indie book publishing or blog posts.
So, in the sense, Christians writers are in the same bad situation as local churches. We are so busy talking to ourselves that we cannot stop and think about how we can address the issues, in fiction or nonfiction writing, through the eyes and perceptions of our non-believing readers.
One Way to Approach the Dilemma
What does this mean to Christian writers? First it means we must make a special effort to make friends with Gen Z people. Our main goal should be to listen to them, not just talk to them. Christian writers who want to make a difference in this world must, more than ever, listen to people and write to meet their questions and needs. We cannot guess what they are thinking, but we must actually listen to them.
Then, we must write both fiction and nonfiction books that address those needs. They start with the Gen Z worldview and take readers gently to a Christ-centered worldview. This type of literature is often called “cross-over” because it bridges the gap between two divergent points of view. I mean, is it possible for a vampyre to meet and be transformed by Christ in fiction? In nonfiction, is it possible to discuss topics like evolution without trashing scientific theory? We must consider writing cross-over literature that takes Gen Z people from what they think they know to faith in Christ.
Does this mean we capitulate to the Gen Z perceptions about good and evil, social issues or false notions of science and history? Of course not. We take their views seriously, but lead them gently, through personal testimony and reason, to a place of faith in God.
Christian Writers Can Do It
An easy task? No, but it has been done before in history. The world was filled with tremendous cruelty and barbaric people doing horrible things. But a small band of early Christians began writing down the teachings of Christ (the Gospels) and exchanged letters with each other (the Epistles). In many cases they were not allowed to meet for teaching, and the writings sustained them.
Christian writers need to repeat that process in our present pagan age. Yes, the language has changed but the human heart has remained the same. We must speak to Gen Z in the language they understand. It is an emotional language as much as it is a grammatical language. Even Gen Z people will become Christians when we present the message of Christ in a context they understand. We need to think outside the Christian paradigm if we are to draw Gen Z into the fold.